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Outpouring of giving brightens the holidays for many; Thousands touched by generosity of others

Christmas Day had yet to arrive, but Thykeyia Posey, a single mother sidelined from her job because of chronic illness, already declared this particular holiday the most memorable.

"I have had the best Christmas in my whole entire life," Posey said a few days after her family's plight was featured in The Buffalo News.

Hers was among more than 12,000 families -- including 14,000 children -- in Erie and Niagara counties who will enjoy the holidays thanks to The News Neediest Fund and its allies in the Western New York Holiday Partnership. The News Neediest Fund collects and distributes toys to needy children.

Posey, 39, was diagnosed in June with multiple sclerosis, a condition attacking the central nervous system, which forced her to quit her job as a Tops Market cashier and left her struggling to provide for her daughters, Tawiah, 16, and Javona, 9.

"After hearing about my story, people -- including those at my previous job -- responded to me to the greatest of their ability, and I love and appreciate them for it," Posey said.

The News drive is in its 29th consecutive year, and despite a tough economy, Western New York donors have been remarkably generous this year, according to Deborah Patti, promotions director for The News. The fund collected more than $180,000, she said.

"We live in a very, very generous community, and that hasn't changed," Patti said. "I think the people who can give do understand [that] there are a lot more people this year who are hurting, and [the donors] are being more generous."

She said there has been a noticeable increase in the numbers of people donating $100 or more.

"I've gotten at least one or two $1,000 checks, one from a couple or from private individuals," she added.

The outpouring of generosity has overwhelmed Posey.

"I didn't know I was going to get so many responses from so many people," she said.

"When I get financially all right, I do intend on giving back to the community, because I really want to give back," she added.

One idea that Posey is considering is hosting a pizza party for children in her community, which she has already discussed with Bob O'Brocta of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northtowns, which her daughters attend.

"Yes, I agreed to help her," O'Brocta said. "Her two girls are just good kids and good role models."

Mary Lou Dietrich, director of the West Seneca Food Pantry, is also among the grateful recipients of Western New Yorker's heartfelt largess. The all-volunteer nonprofit organization that she runs from a house owned by St. David's Episcopal Church on Seneca Street has a new $4,000 furnace, thanks to the generosity of many people who responded to the pantry's predicament.

"The furnace was installed last week," Dietrich said. "I'm still impressed that not one of our volunteers stayed home [while the old furnace was inoperable], complained or asked when are we going to get heat."

She said the organization has received enough money to repair the 125-year-old building's leaking roof.

"St. David's Episcopal Church will put a line in the budget to help with the upkeep, and the funds that came in to us will go into the fund," said Dietrich, who added that her pantry's services are needed more than ever in the current tough economy.

"We have so many who come in to us and say: 'I just lost my job, and I can't find work,' " Dietrich said.

"We've had people walk in crying and saying, 'I never had to do this before,' " she added.

The United Way of Buffalo & Erie County administers The News Neediest Fund program. Michele A. Magaris, United Way special projects coordinator, described pantries, such as the one in West Seneca, as ground zero in the battle to help the area's needy.

"In the quilt of not-for-profits, they are a very important thread, because they're the ones that provide the personal, localized services in the community, and they're being stressed severely during these times," Magaris said.

"Often, they're running on shoestrings or the generosity of another organization, but their volunteers are usually innovative and resilient," she added. "The outstanding assistance that the community has offered to the West Seneca Food Pantry speaks to the generosity that we've always seen in Western New York."

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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